Sept. 6, 2007
A quick glance at the 2007 UCF men's and women's cross country rosters shows that the teams share a common theme - experience. When the Knights open the season on Friday at the Mountain Dew Invitational in Gainesville, Fla., only three of the combined 22 athletes will line up at the start of a collegiate race for the first time. In fact, nine seniors will run for the Black & Gold.
"It helps to have seniors that step-up, provide leadership and take ownership of the program," said distance coach Mason Cathey, who joins the Knights after serving in a similar position at Duke during the last year.
It is the kind of mix that will help aid in the transition as a new coaching staff, including head coach Caryl Smith Gilbert and Cathey, takes the helm in search of a championship.
"Mason has been doing a great job preparing the athletes for the upcoming cross country season," said Smith Gilbert, who took over the UCF cross country and women's track and field programs in June. "Our goal is to have a strong showing at our season opener then progressively improve as we head into the Conference USA Championships in October."
After placing in the middle of the pack during the 2006 C-USA Championships, the women's squad has set its goals higher for its third season in the league. With five seniors and three juniors, the Knights anticipate a strong season.
Among the veterans set to lead the team are co-captains Karen Kozub and Allison Palmer. A fifth-year senior, Kozub scored in all six meets she ran a year ago, including a season-best time of 19:22.10 at the Mountain Dew Invitational. Palmer was the Knights' No. 2 runner in the Great American Cross Country Classic and has a personal-best of 19:18.14.
"Karen and Allison, with their different strengths, will be great captains this year," said Cathey. "Both know the value of being a team."
Also looking to capitalize on her experience is senior Elizabeth Miller. A member of the 2006 C-USA All-Academic team, she posted a personal-best of 19:34.19 at last year's Mountain Dew Invitational and ranked in the middle of UCF's line-up during all of the five events she entered.
"Liz is very determined and disciplined," said Cathey. "I see her doing well as a senior this season."
UCF also looks to junior Jamie Rzepecki to continue her consistency as she has scored in 12 of the 13 meets she has run during her career. Her classmates Shantile Blackburn and Kelly McNeill are working to score in races later this season.
Although only a sophomore, Jenny Clausen trained hard over the summer, logging as many as 80 miles a week. The former all-conference honoree finished as the Knights' No. 1 runner in every race during her rookie campaign. She holds the sixth-best time on UCF's all-time lists for both the 5K (18:31.20) and the 6K (22:46.60).
"Jenny is an exciting athlete to work with because she sets high goals for herself," explained Cathey. "She lives by running and takes it very seriously. It's great to work with an athlete who loves the sport that much."
Four more sophomores - Shannon Kelly, Kellie Dwyer, Jaclyn Johnson and Erica Weitz - also add further depth to the lineup, earning experience in a handful of events last fall. Freshman Ocean Cohen joins UCF after qualifying for the state high school championships all four years and posting a personal-best of 19:13 in the 5K.
The men's squad also boasts a wealth of experience, returning four seniors and one junior from 2006 and the Knights are looking to start the fall strong at UF's Mountain Dew Classic.
Among those on the list of veterans is senior and all-conference honoree Dustin Hicks. He owns the second-best 8K time in UCF history at 25:16.39. Although coming off an illness, Hicks provides valuable leadership at practices.
The team captain in 2006, senior Paul Nielsen also ran a personal-best in the 8K, recording a time of 26:16.55 at the Mountain Dew Invitational to kick off last fall. The Knights will also benefit from the miles logged by seniors Paul Fitzpatrick and Matt Clements.
"All of the seniors - Dustin Hicks,Matt Clements, Paul Fitzpatrick and Paul Nielsen - play a part on how the men's team has come together early this season," said Cathey."They are working well together."
Although junior Daniel Conn may have been a surprise contributor in 2006 when he posted a career-best 26:34.52 at the Disney Classic, the C-USA All-Academic team member trained hard over the summer and will look to be a consistent scorer in the line-up this year.
Sophomore Richie Bonilla, a native of Weston, Fla., returns to his home state after competing for Tennessee during his freshman year. He was previously named 2005 Broward Country Runner of the Year. Two solid freshmen Miles Harris and Baker Burchfield round out the men's lineup. Harris holds the Oak Hall School record in the 5K at 16:08, while Burchfield has a personal-best of 16:23 in the same event.
Aiming for their first Conference USA Championships, the Knights' staff created a competitive schedule that includes some traditional local meets and some new events.
UCF opens the season on Sept. 7 at the Mountain Dew Invitational in Gainesville, Fla., where the teams will be able to preview the NCAA Regional course. September also features trips to the Vanderbilt Commodore Classic in Nashville, Tenn., and the Paul Short Invitational in Bethlehem, Pa.
The Knights then stay close to home as they race in the FLRunners.com Invitational and the Stetson Invitational before competing at the C-USA Championships hosted by UTEP on Oct. 27.
"Most of our athletes are from Florida and at the collegiate meets in-state, they see a lot of the same athletes that they raced against in high school," said Cathey. "It's good to get a different perspective and gauge our team against some of the other competition throughout the nation."
On Nov. 10, the Knights cap off the season where it began as they travel to Gainesville for the 2007 NCAA South Regional as they look to qualify for the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind. on Nov. 19.